Boaters may pay more for town moorings
Balancing burgeoning budgets and providing funding for infrastructure are never easy tasks. That was evident as Harbor Commission members struggled to update the Jamestown Harbor Management Ordinance recently.
The commission’s Sept. 8 meeting was spent debating methods of generating money to pay for infrastructure by establishing adequate mooring rates that are fair to commercial operators, as well as to resident and non-resident mooring holders who pay mooring fees to the town.
Collection and distribution of harbor funds have been sensitive issues for years.
Chairman Michael de Angeli opened the discussion by referring to a May 10, 2002 letter from Feinstein & Gabrilowitz, a law firm representing the Concerned Boaters, a Jamestown group that filed a lawsuit contesting mooring fees being diverted to the Jame- stown general fund.
The money was used to fund town projects, instead of being limited to provide financing only for harbor operation expenses. The group alleged that the town had imposed an unlawful tax.
The Concerned Boaters prevailed, and withdrew the complaint when the town acknowledged that it would not continue the practice.
However, the group sent a letter on April 11, 2010 requesting town harbor/waterfront facilities capital account information for the last three fiscal years, as well as documentation of harbor-related infrastructure expenditures and other information pertaining to harborrelated projects.
The request was filed pursuant to the State Freedom of Information Act.
De Angeli said that the Concerned Boaters’ current complaint was about mooring holder fees being diverted from the harbor fund to finance infrastructure projects from which mooring holders did not benefit.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is a completely different situation,” de Angeli said.
He went on to say that the commission would comply with the request for documentation and that “we” – meaning the Harbor Commission – might be hearing from these folks down the road. He acknowledged that the Concerned Boaters might have a debatable point.
De Angeli also noted that last year, the commission had a surplus on the mooring holder side of the budget and a deficit on the infrastructure side. He indicated that the commission needed a way to have “ ...a little more flexibility in designating how harbor funds are used.
“Mooring holders have a need for infrastructure,” de Angeli said. “They don’t always directly benefi t from everything the harbor budget finances. Like the need for a Ft. Getty boat ramp is not of direct benefit to mooring holders, but it’s not unfair that we build one,” de Angeli said.
He used school taxes as an example. He said, “I help pay for the school system whether I use it or not.”
Vice chair Andrew Kallfelz offered his perspective on the problem when he said, “The real problem is that we have the need to finance a lot more infrastructure than we have money coming from the commercial leases. Right now, the money coming from commercial leases and a little bit of money from mooring holders is all that is going to the infrastructure.
“Either the town and our leaseholders have to figure out how to change the lease structure to fund all of the infrastructure that they are using because recently the infrastructure was related to the sea walls, the docks, the piers and largely leased stuff. And it is not being adequately supported by the revenues that we get from the lease...how do we fund it?” Kallfelz asked.
De Angeli pointed out that the leases have eight or nine years left to run on 10-year leases and, “We can’t just renegotiate the bill.”
Kallfelz said that Jamestown mooring rates are 20 to as much as 50% below the rates charged by neighboring communities. He said that the rates are calculated on the expense of harbor operations.
“Either we are incredibly effi- cient and you guys [meaning the harbor staff] should all get bonuses for saving the town so much money, or all the other towns are figuring out how to fund their stuff with higher mooring rates.”
Kallfelz continued, “We are under market and can’t raise our rates, and we can’t fund all of our infrastructure. So we are in this very interesting pickle.”
A specific pressure point comes from the commercial operators, according to Kallfelz.
“They are getting charged double for their permit fees, so they are feeling particularly squeezed, especially by a proposed change like raising the mooring rates, which will raise their rates exponentially,” he said.
De Angeli had suggested changes to the Harbor Management Ordinance, which the commission reviewed, point by point.
The commercial operators present at the meeting debated the burden they were expected to uphold, which resulted in more questions than answers.
Consequently, no decisions were made concerning the amounts of the rate increases or how they would relate to the commercial operators.
The commission voted to continue the discussion during its next meeting in October. De Angeli said he would review the ordinance plan and try to come up with suggestions that would be fair to all concerned parties.